John Spengler

Photo: Jim Harrison

John Spengler

9th Heinz Awards - 2003

Mario Molina and John Spengler, groundbreaking pioneers in the way air pollution affects human health, were honored with the 9th Heinz Award for the Environment.

John Spengler, director of the Environmental Science and Engineering program at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, has devoted his career to studying and understanding the effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution on human health. He pioneered the development of personal monitors to measure how air pollution affects individuals as they go about their daily activities. This breakthrough helped researchers gather data critical to understanding the link between pollution and human health.

He has shown that exposure to indoor pollution can be even more harmful to human beings and their health than outdoor exposure. His work led to the recommendation of the airline smoking ban in 1986. He has not been satisfied with merely showing that fungi, molds, radon, mildew, asbestos, lead and tobacco smoke indoors can adversely affect health, but has taken the next step to improve air quality through sustainable development strategies and the design of healthier living conditions, taking into account energy efficiency, comfort and indoor air quality. Dr. Spengler has connected the dots and identified the environmental health triggers in the air that cause illness and other adverse health reactions.

The individual work of Doctors Molina and Spengler has been extraordinary. But their combined work covers the full range of human health issues related to air pollution, from indoor and ambient air pollution to the global problems of stratospheric ozone depletion and the consequences of fossil fuel combustion. These scientists have used their brilliance to heighten public awareness of the risks of air pollution and have helped to open our eyes to the impact of our own actions and championed new thinking about our stewardship of the earth’s resources.

Note: This profile was written at the time of the awards’ presentation.

Populations in developed countries worry about radon, pesticide residues and chemical emissions from building materials and furnishings. But in developing countries, the problem is even more acute. Nearly two billion people, mostly women and children, are exposed every day to very high levels of indoor air pollution arising from the poor-quality fuels burned from cooking and heating.”

— John Spengler


John Spengler, Heinz Awardee speech, 2003 Heinz Awards presentation, Folger Theatre